In their small town in the Pocono Mountains, Earl Knox and Hank Grisset have never been considered among the pretty ones to anyone but each other. As lucky as Hank and Earl consider themselves to have found each other, that’s about as far as luck has gone. All those Could’ah— Should’ah— Would’ah— moments a man never sees comin’, but that don’t stop him from regrettin’ them later in life.
When Earl makes a critical decision that ultimately outs him and Hank, a mysterious plane shows up at their lake house. Coming out in a small town can erase friendships in a heartbeat. But when a rift in the family leads to a life-threatening accident, only their love for each other is gonna get them through this—that, and their plane from nowhere.
EARL KNOX pulled his truck down along the graveled driveway and parked alongside the mountain lake home. A quick glance not seeing Hank’s truck told him he weren’t round yet—most likely gone into town to pick up a few odds and ends for the weekend. Course Hank could’ah called and Earl could’ah stopped—and such was the phrase of most of their life, it seemed. Could’ah— Should’ah— Would’ah—
Could’ah come out of the closet long ago— Should’ah not gone out on that date his folks forced him on— Would’ah been happy with it being just him and Hank. But that’s not how their story goes. Instead, they were living their own version of Brokeback Mountain.
Earl hopped out of the truck, dragging his overnight bag along with him. Hop being the nonoperative word. At his age, hop to it was something his body just didn’t do. Though he’d been a foreman of the Pocono Mountain Mill and Tree Works for some time now, he was also a born ’n’ bred lumberjack, and you both hopped to it and got the fuck out of the way pronto. ’Bout the only two phrases he or any of the boys who worked for him knew. That and a large array of colorful curse words, including a few custom-made ones.
Earl followed along the well-worn footpath down the side of the house heading for the porch when he came to a dead stop—
“Huh.” He scratched at his head a moment at the sight. “And where the hell did you come from?” Earl glanced around, seeing nothin’ else particularly out of place. He spotted the lawnmower—still the same old thing as it was. The broken-down wheelbarrow—even the footpath he was standing on still had no stonework. Okay, so, no surprise lottery win here, but then Hank was gonna have some heavy explainin’ to do about the airplane that was sittin’ in the water at the dock.
He tossed his bag up on the step and then wandered down the hill to the dock to have a closer look. He really didn’t know much about planes in general, let alone water-skipping ones, but he could still size her up a bit just from looking at her: a single prop engine sittin’ on oversized pontoons. Nothin’ fancy, she was still just her naked aluminum body save for a bright red stripe down her side—and she was beat all to Hades and back. The last couple of numbers on her tail section were worn off, and her windows were coated with a heavy grime, making it impossible to see inside her cab. Old was an understatement. He was pushing old; this thing was old and rundown. So what the hell was it doing here? And at their dock?
Earl reached out to touch the wingtip and got a shock that had him snapping his hand back fast. “Seems you got some serious electrolysis goin’ on there. You sure won’t be lastin’ long if we don’t getcha fixed up quick.” He stepped back, just looking her over, and scratched over the small bit of salt ’n’ pepper chest hairs that peeked out from the top of his shirt. He then ran his fingers through a thick mop of matching hair on his head as he stood there, still looking her over. His head filled with nothing but more questions and not one conclusion.
While he still expected Hank to explain this, he could see them both havin’ some fun with it, too. “Sure hope Hank knows how to fly one of these.” He chuckled and headed back for the house to fetch a toolbox.
Earl liked workin’ on things, and he often spent his weekend escapes up here fixin’ this or that, includin’ Hank’s personal plumbin’. He liked doing that, too. And just on weekends wasn’t near enough to satisfy his Hankerings—
He went around back to the garage and pulled the door open. Right away, he noticed a few things had been moved about and the toolbox he was wantin’ wasn’t in its normal spot. “Must’ah got put in the barn shed.” Earl rolled the garage door closed and headed down the long trail that crossed over ways to the far end of the four-acre lot.
The lake house was theirs. Their home away from everything that tried to keep them apart. Hank had gotten it from his Uncle William, the only man in Hank’s life who knew about them, and didn’t have a problem with it. When Will passed away, he’d left the mountain lake house to Hank to get away from it all. ’Cept Hank struggled to keep hold of it. It weren’t no cheap thing to live up in these parts.
Earl had tried to help, but he was screwed up tight with a wife he never wanted. That girly date he should’ah not done a lifetime ago had landed him gettin’ blamed for knockin’ her up. And no amount of “I never touched her” counted for anythin’. The parent war on both sides of the fence had them both gettin’ shoved down the I do aisle just as the baby bump started to show. At least the next three bumps were actually his. He’d had them tested to be certain, and they were great kids. He loved every one of them, including the first, who turned out to be the product of Nelson Bronson, the rich kid who just wanted a taste of the Pocono locals while he and some of his college buds were up for some ski runs and then some. But as far as Earl was concerned, that child was his own, loved him just as much as the others, and only he knew the truth. Nevertheless, he and Gracie remained strangers, and still the damn woman refused to let him go. When she’d had her tubes tied after their daughter was born, his baby-makin’ days were over. So was the act that made them.
He let Gracie run the house, but when his folks died, he took every penny of his inheritance and gifted it to Hank. Gracie couldn’t say one word about it: served her right for not givin’ him the divorce when he’d asked for it. Upon that request, she’d threatened to take his pension and everythin’ they had. What was worse was she swore she’d see to it the kids would hate him. It was then he decided while he may be stuck with her, he wasn’t going to skimp on his trips to be with Hank either. So instead of a one- or two-week getaway every other month, it became every weekend. Been that way ever since. She wouldn’t dare out him, and he made damn sure to remind her that if the lumbermill found out he was gay, they’d fire his ass on the spot, and then she’d have nothin’. Not even his pension.
Earl hated for a long time. Never in his life had he wanted to wrap his fingers ’round another neck and shake it so hard as he did then. She had him by his nuts, but at least he had her by her tits in return. Still, it pissed him off to no end that they should have to stay this way on account of money or the loss of his kids’ love. She didn’t like him any more than he did her, so why bother to stay miserable? He’d left that night after their feud and come to stay up here with Hank for three weeks, until Hank made him go back. They both agreed they didn’t have enough tucked away to cover them both. And of course Hank went back home to Emma.
At least there, Hank’s trapped life wasn’t entirely about hate. Hank was the run-of-the-mill Southern Baptist who hid his gay side ’cause the church folk and his good-hearted, lovin’ parents expected him to. Emma was the cute button-nose girl down the street with scratched-up shins and dirty knees on account of she was as much a tomboy as she was a Southern girl with blonde pigtails. She’d always had a crush on Hank, and he used it to hide the fact he was crushin’ on Johnny Davenport, the town’s bad boy with a souped-up Vitamin C Orange Plymouth Superbird. ’Cept Johnny turned out to be a real bad boy. Hank happened to come across Johnny down at the creek one day with none other than Emma pinned under him. Hank beat the living tar out of Johnny and became forever Emma’s hero. A few years later, Hank married her.
How, years after, Hank and Emma wound up here in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in the Pocono Mountains, Earl still couldn’t imagine, but he was glad of it. Ever since their first encounter when he laid eyes on Hank, he was most certainly glad of it.
Hank got himself a job in the millworks, and Emma worked as a housekeeper at the nearby resort during ski season. Thursday nights was family night for most Scranton folks, but Friday and Saturday soon became Hank and Earl’s. No one even noticed; the local whiskey hole was full up of guys wantin’ to drink and get away from the family—namely the wife. Just wasn’t likely for the same reason as he and Hank did. But that’s how their story began.
Earl made it to the barn shed and swung both doors open wide to let in the light. A Barn Owl, who’d been livin’ up in the rafters for goin’ on three years now, chirped his disagreement with the intrusion of sunlight.
“How’s it goin’, Hoot?” Earl called up to the owl as he walked in. That’s what he named it, on account of he and Hank not bein’ all that creative when it came to pet names. They’d had a Labrador once, and after a week of not comin’ up with anythin’ they could agree on, they just called him Dog. Dog wagged his tail and that was that. Earl spotted his toolbox amidst a few of Hank’s things scattered on the old wooden workbench. Hank had obviously been up to somethin’, but so far, the resulting produced evidence eluded Earl. He spotted the meter gauge hanging on the pinboard, grabbed it, and headed on back down to the dock and the new arrival.
Hank lived here full time now. Emma had passed away a few years back, and since then he’d been tryin’ his hand at bein’ a writer. Earl figured it was his way to gain some closure for all the shit they’d been through and still manage to hang on to each other. Life for them had changed so drastically shortly after they’d gotten the lake house. Hank had finally come out to Emma about them, and she’d taken it surprisingly well. Only, her little-girl crush, which she still had, was hurtin’ from it. She’d even told him she would give him a divorce if he asked for it, and he’d spent the better half of a year thinkin’ it over. He’d finally decided to set them both free—their two boys were nearly grown-up, so no sense in draggin’ it out. Then one night while Hank and he were up here, they got a call from the local sheriff’s department. Emma and the boys had been in a car wreck. They’d lost control in the rain and their van went down the side of the ravine. The boys didn’t make it, and Emma was barely hangin’ on.
After that, asking for a divorce just wasn’t in the books. Earl had even suggested Hank move them both up to the lake house. And for a while there, it was the three of them: Emma and her two men. They’d both been at her side holdin’ her hand when she’d died shortly after a stroke. She’d thanked Hank for stayin’ just to keep her company. Hank cried ’cause he did actually love that little tomboy Southern girl.
Now it was just Hank and him, and Earl’s thorn back at the house. Gracie was havin’ an affair with someone he didn’t care to know too much about. The four kids were all grown-up now and off on their own.
This was their story. No romance novel here and certainly neither one of ’em was no pretty boy. Well, maybe Hank’s boyish Southern face—even at his age, he had that Sundance Kid Robert Redford look about ’em. But Earl’s face at fifty-four wasn’t likely to make it on any one of those gay websites they found themselves lookin’ at from time to time, while Hank made friends with other up-and-comin’ authors. Course, Hank kept tryin’ to tell him he was going to use their pictures for his book cover, and Earl course told him don’t no one want to look at an old bear like me. Hank’s response every time was I do. And that, of course, was enough to melt Earl’s ol’ lumberjack heart.
The path opened up to the lake yard. There she was, sitting down at the dock, looking as ugly as can be, and yet Earl was falling hard for her already. He decided to grab a towel from his truck right quick before going down.
Earl returned down the side of the house, glancing up as he came around the corner, just like earlier when he’d arrived, but now he came to a screeching halt. The toolbox in his hand fell, crashing and spilling its contents around his feet.
He just stood there stock straight, wide-eyed he was sure of—’cause there was no way in all hell a plane could just get up and walk away—but sure as shit, it was gone.
The whole thing is very farfetched but that didn’t take away the attraction of the mystery behind it.
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This novella (approximately 67 pages) was engaging, suspenseful, and a bit eerie.
Grab a beverage, get a blanket, curl up on your couch and enjoy!
This was very well written, gave you a total sense of the characters, and moved along at a fast pace.
This is a wonderful story for those people who get tired of huge amounts of angst and pain and long for something a little sweeter.
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